Corporate Manslaughter two years on

It came in with a blaze of glory … prosecution of companies and other organisations was going to a whole lot easier. It is now approaching two years since the law of Corporate Manslaughter was supposedly revolutionised by the introduction of the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007. So where are we now? The reality has not quite matched the hype. There has only been one successful prosecution and even that was tainted by the ill health of the company's Managing Director. In any event it was fairly easy to spot that the particular company was a relatively easy organisation to pursue. 

The Act permits prosecutions for deaths caused by a gross breach of relevant duty of care being owed by the organisation to the deceased person. A substantial element of that breach must be the way in which the activities of the organisation were managed or organised by senior management. The writer personally has been involved in three cases which have not come to fruition as prosecutions under the Act but rather ultimately Health and Safety law has been fallen back on by prosecuting authorities. 

Admittedly the penalty in the recent case, a fine of £385,000, was steep for the size of the organisation and relative to its finances. Sentencing guidance for courts suggests fines should be around £500000 as a starting point.

But two years on there is no real guidance as to how these prosecutions will work out. The difficulty even with the most recent case is that it was a jury verdict of guilty. All reports of that case suggest that it was factually straight forward, the health and safety guidance relating relied upon being longstanding. Will there be a similar article in another two years … only time will tell. Nonetheless all organisations need to ensure their health and safety practices and procedures are on a firm footing and reflect day to day reality of working there. 

Posted on: 22/03/2011

This article is for general guidance only. It provides useful information in a concise form. Action should not be taken without obtaining specific legal advice.

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